Wednesday, January 31, 2007

The reservoir runs dry

Oh, Quentin Tarantino, won’t you please come home!

Posted By on Wed, Jan 31, 2007 at 12:00 AM

Does the title 3000 Miles to Graceland mean anything to you? Do you own one of the few remaining VHS copies of Destiny Turns on the Radio? Do you stay up nights, hoping to catch a glimpse of Knockaround Guys or Things to Do in Denver When You're Dead on cable? Is Boondock Saints your Raging Bull?

If so, stop reading this and purchase a ticket to Smokin' Aces. Nothing mentioned here could possibly deter you from shelling out 10 bucks to see yet another director exhume the corpse of Quentin Tarantino's Pulp Fiction, drag it out onto a blood-soaked, gold lamé stretcher and hit it with a pair of rusty defibrillator paddles again and again and again until all that's left in the theater is a burnt electrical smell. Tarantino may have moved on to other genres, continents and methods of bloodletting, but the legions of filmmakers who genuflect in front of him are still waiting for their own "Royale with Cheese" moment, and damn it if they aren't going to subject us to their efforts.

Anyone who thought they stopped making cut-rate Fiction knockoffs years ago will experience a sinking feeling in the first scene, in which a couple of uptight FBI agents (Ray Liotta and Ryan Reynolds) wiretap a mob boss while exchanging copious thoughts on deodorant ("that shit gives you Alzheimer's") and dermatology ("urine is good for the skin"). Then 20 minutes of voice-overs start: First from the feds, then from some thugs, then from a bespectacled Andy Garcia, trying out an accent that makes him sound like the love child of Shrek and Ricardo Montalban.

We learn of Vegas entertainer Buddy Israel (Jeremy Piven), a mafia mole who's gotten so wrapped up in the life that both the cops and the gangsters want him out, the latter willing to put a million-dollar price on his head to do it. Cue the dozen would-be colorful hit men and women — including a flat Alicia Keys, a handful of Big Lebowski types and worst of all, Ben Affleck in a pleather coat and a Kangol cap — who descend upon Reno to take Buddy out and accept the reward.

You'd think the setup, however laborious, would prepare you for a bunch of funny, nihilistic mayhem — a decent dose of violence for violence's sake. But early in the film, it becomes depressingly clear that what writer-director Joe Carnahan really wants is for us to, like, care: He cranks up Clint Mansell's operatic score and shoots everyone in slo-mo, crying or screaming or burying their faces in their hands as if they're going through an existential crisis.

For all the screen time devoted to hookers splayed out on hotel room floors (and falling through glass coffee tables without so much as a scrape), there's an almost fetishistic attention to tough guys locked in dying embraces, hand-to-face combat or shoot-outs in which they continue to pump lead into each other long after they've collapsed from their (seemingly) mortal gashes. It's all very unintentionally gay, never more so than in the film's one genuinely funny moment: Jason Bateman's cameo as a low-rent lawyer with questionable motives and a more-questionable bunny suit in the corner of his room. He's the one performer in Smokin' Aces who seems to be following his own muse, and not Carnahan's crushingly dull, second-hand idea of what thug life is like. Also, for the record, Bateman has exactly one scene.

Michael Hastings writes about film for Metro Times. Send comments to letters@metrotimes.com.

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